On Tuesday, Mozilla Firefox became the first major browser added to the Microsoft Store, an important addition for those hoping for more browser choices within Windows 10 and 11.
According to Mozilla, the change came as a result of Microsoft changing its policies to allow third-party browser support. “Until recently, Microsoft’s store policies required all web browsers to use the engine that Microsoft had built into their platform, which meant we were unable to send the Firefox you know and love in the Windows Store,” Mozilla said in a blog post.
“Now that Microsoft has changed their policies, we are finally able to launch Firefox with our industry-leading Gecko engine in the Windows Store,” Mozilla wrote.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Some smaller browsers you’ve probably never heard of are already in the Store app, but Firefox is the biggest browser popping up. This is important because Microsoft operating systems such as Windows 10/11 Home in S mode (also known as Windows 10 S or Windows 11 S) prohibit the download of third-party apps for security reasons. (Browser maker Brave completely bypassed the Microsoft Store and went to Epic instead.)
Mozilla has in the past been vociferous about the need to provide access to third-party browsers. They actually wrote an open letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in 2015 about the changes made to standard apps in Windows 10 after updates. When the Firefox 91 update came out, the developers customized its installation process, which made it the default browser on Windows 11. As we noted in our Windows 11 review, Microsoft requires users to set a default browser for each file type in Windows 11: .HTM, .HTML, .PDF, .XHT and so on. It’s a confusing mix of file types and configurations.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Unfortunately, even with the addition of Firefox in the Microsoft Store, the default browser issue does not change completely. Setting Firefox as the “default” browser by downloading it via the store simply sets the .SHTML browser as Firefox. It will allow the browser to parse server-side HTML (or web pages hosted on a server) by default, which should be the majority of requests. However, according to the Windows 11 Settings page, Edge will still open PDF documents and handle HTTPS and HTTP requests unless you manually change default apps.
Still, does adding Firefox to the store allow other browser vendors to offer their products there as well? We asked Microsoft for a comment but had not received a response before press time.
However, that would probably be questionable. According to StatCounter, Microsoft Edge controlled 6.8 percent of the U.S. browser market in October, while Firefox accounted for only 3.2 percent. Chrome represented just over 50 percent. What we’re probably seeing here is that Microsoft is generous to a minor rival instead of a dramatic change in browser choices.
As PCWorld’s senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft’s news and chip technology, among other beats. He has previously written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK and ReadWrite.